Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday August 30, 2019
Gaming the writ: the strategy that goes into timing an election call
If you’re still enjoying your Labour Day weekend, please don’t let the prospect of an election call spoil it.
Even though the federal campaign could begin officially at any time now, the last possible date for calling one is September 15. That’s the latest date that would satisfy the minimum campaign length of 36 days before voting day, fixed in law as “the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following the previous general election” — October 21, 2019.
New election rules mandating that campaigns can only run a maximum of 50 days mean Liberal strategists have less room to manoeuvre in timing the election call, although there’s still a two-week window.
“There’s always some strategy involved,” said Anne McGrath, a longtime NDP strategist.
It’s probably safe to assume that calling an election before Labour Day is not what the Liberals want to do — particularly since Gov. Gen. Julie Payette is out of the country.
In the past, prime ministers have used the power to call elections to work the timing to their advantage.
In 2000, Jean Chrétien called a snap election a mere three years after winning his second majority, because polls indicated the Liberals had a phenomenal lead in Ontario. The gamble paid off.
Stephen Harper wasn’t so lucky when he rolled the dice four years ago, betting that a long campaign would benefit his Conservatives — armed with a healthy war chest — at the expense of his opponents. When pressed by reporters, he said the opposition parties were already campaigning and he wanted a level playing field.
Harper launched a 78-day campaign, the longest in modern times. The move backfired.
“What it did seem to do,” said Richard Ciano, a past president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, “is give Justin Trudeau, the then-leader of the third party, a chance to really run a good retail campaign.”
The conventional wisdom says shorter campaigns are better for incumbent governments. (CBC)